Wednesday, December 30, 2009

too cool for school

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day and the subject of  being cool arose. It was in the context of other people our age( older than thirty) who are still worried about being cool.
When I think of cool, Paul Newman comes to mind. James Dean is an obvious choice. I suppose Michael Jordan would have to make the list.Otis Taylor, Tom Waits, Warren Zevon ( I recently saw a bumper sticker- "I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand"),David Byrne,Heath Ledger.No doubt, there are a lot of cool people in the world.
The online thesaurus had this to say:
"Slang expressions meaning the same thing as cool, like bully, capital, hot, groovy, hep, crazy, nervous, far-out, rad, and tubular have for the most part not had the staying power or continued universal appeal of cool. In general there is no intrinsic reason why one word stays alive and others get consigned to the scrapheap of linguistic history; slang terms are like fashion designs, constantly changing and never "in" for long. The jury is still out on how long newer expressions of approval such as def and phat will survive."
Cool is derived from the thirties jazz scene, naturally African American in origin ( aren't they responsbile for a ton of cool shit?) but it really hasn't become dated or ubiquitous as most slang eventually does.
This being said, I am the first to admit that I am not cool. I have been called many things: nice, sweet, friendly, mean, smelly, weird,cold,quirky, crazy, hysterical- but never cool. I am not very interested in being cool, actually, as I find it to be a little contrived for my taste. Again, I admire people who are innately cool because it is a whole lot of work from what I can tell.
The cool person seems to effortlessly know the who,when,where of most things.They always seem ahead of the curve with modern culture,food,music,art( sometimes)-or totally off the map and in another cultural universe altogether, but still,it's a ridiculously cool universe.They always seem to be wearing or carrying the latest most coveted clothing and accessories designed by people who aren't in mainstream rags like InStyle or People. They are extremely cool...stealth cool....
I suppose it is also a relative thing- some think the Waterford crystal glasses are the bomb. Or a Birken bag that costs as much as a year of private preschool.Others find that the handmade Bolivian ceremonial table weaving rock their world. I suppose that the Jonas Brothers are considered cool by millions of tweens, but I am unsure if their cool is as relevant as our cool seeing as we've been exposed to a whole lot cooler shit that they have thus far.
Some think Damien Hirst is cool, but I just don't. Formaldehyde + dead animal does not equal art. If that makes me a philistine then so be it.Bring on the Thomas Kincaid because I would rather look at a machine made "hand embellished" fairy cottage under a waterfall in the middle of a neon forrest than a case full of maggots feasting on a cow's rotting head.One is is kinda lame and mass produced and the other is a stage one serial killer acting out.
The older generation likes Michael Bubble.They think he is really cool, but, after dining with the man,I beg to differ.He just seemed very self aware, which isn't so cool.I find that most people seem cool until you spend more than three minutes with them and then the seams start to show.You realize quickly that they are  gigantic balls of neuroses,insecurity and fear (just like everybody else) and are desperately worried about losing their cool status. Sort of like high school, and who in their right mind would ever go back to that William Goldmanesque hell hole?
 I don't have the mental chops to invent something ubercool, or write something culturally significant, so I chose the pursuit of stardom. Lots of cool people are famous,right?
I can tell you first hand that it requires almost constant grooming, which is so not cool. Meg Ryan's famous "just out of bed" hair took hours in a high end salon with assistants and multiple top of the line products to achieve. Demi didn't pop out three kids and suddenly look like a swimsuit model who tweets semi nude pics of herself  to the world. It seems impossible that she didn't have some, um, encouragement from a scalpel (along with a little goading from the National Enquirer).She denies it,but why hasn't she published a diet and exercise book to show the world how she did it? It isn't like her Tweeting career is any less of a sell out than becoming the next Jane Fonda.
The pursuit of cool and famous is time consuming.The hours spent at acting classes, yoga studios,salons, shrinks and fitness centers is dizzying.Cool famous people need 24 hour assistance just to maintain their lives while they keep themselves really cool.
I probably spent a tenth of the time that the successful actors spent on such activities because I just got so sick of myself after awhile. Another root touch up? Wasn't I just here? The endless discussions about my motivation or playing my opposite or my audition.The ME game is really tiring unless one is a bona fide narcissist. I suppose I have shades of it, but am not full blown (yet.....)
The other problem with "cool" is that spending time with people who actively pursue coolness activates my own insecurties. There is an undefinable underlying tension in these interactions where I can hear myself speaking and analyzing what comes out as I go. I don't feel like me anymore but more like I need to impress them with my coolness, which is questionable at best. I always feel like my stories aren't as funny as they usually are and my cultural references are dated and mediocre at best.
Years ago I was the newbie on a made for television movie set with several up and coming actors. Two of them went on the become ridiculously famous-one became a "Friend" and the other an Oscar winning,rock star marrying, excercise queen promoting celebrinator with a  lifestyle blog. Everyone was in their early twenties,mind you, but their idea of group fun was to play truth or dare, or word games where you had to describe someone as a piece of fruit and everyone had to guess who it was. While outwardly harmless activities, they were laced with innuendo and the feeling that a bucket of pig's blood was somewhere in the near future. Perhaps it was my own insecurity at being decidedly uncool in such seemingly cool company that made me feel so out of sorts. It definitely didn't feel safe or very cool, for that matter. The "Friend" was a tad manic and inclined to make up lingo,which we all inexplicably adopted in a collective way and, for the next month, each of us said his chosen word of the week in regular conversation to describe anything from strange to silly to unsettling to outright icky. It was a general word that had a lot of definitions depending on the context. He made it up,  and we bought it  like the unwitting guinnea pigs in some accidental social experiment. It united us in a weird sense but only in a wolf pack way.The alphas(them) were still waging  low level socio-emotional warfare while the betas(me) were trying to simply do the work and get paid.And all the while we each kept reflexively saying "oh, that's so (insert word here)", (which made me feel a little nauseated every time I said it).
 On the set, my absence of cool was bolstered on several occasions by the crew rolling their eyes when "Friend" and "Celebrintator"  would burn through film with mistakes or lack of enthusiasm. The director (who went on to two Academy Award nominations and one win) was patient and extremely supportive of me,while contending with their varying degrees of  petulence and entitlement.I saw him at a swanky party years later, and he couldn't have been kinder. I also had occasion to run into "Friend" at a party as well and, after being reminded by me that we had worked together on the tv movie for an entire month, he disparaged it as heartitly as I had disparaged "The Scarlett Letter" in its day. He looked at it as an embarrassing part of the B.F. era ( before "Friends") and was now solidly rooted in the A.F.(after "Friends") experience. I saw it as a highpoint in my career. Perhaps that is why he is famous and I am not.
While "Friend" and "Celebrinator" may be rich and famous, they will never be cool  for one singular reason- neither has a truly self depricating bone in their exceptionally toned, over praised, over paid, meticulously waxed, regularly dyed, profoundly egomanical bodies, and that is the defining characteristic of cool, in my not so humble opinion. Hey wait, so maybe I am kind of cool.....?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

keep your hands off my baby

When Big was six months old, we decided to get a babysitter. I was a very “hands on" mother, and giving up those few precious hours to go to dinner or see a movie seemed shallow and unnecessary at time. After all, what could possibly be more important than the care and feeding of our little baby? In the interest of my relationship with my husband, I started looking for the perfect sitter. I began by asking other mothers, friends and family. The few names I came up with had serious strings- “she doesn’t drive”, "she doesn’t speak any English”, "she has to bring her 18 month old with her”.  One mother I spoke to suggested Craigslist as an option. I tried to mask my horror, as I had spent several hours one night unable to tear myself away from the “casual encounters " page. It was some of the most graphic and seamy inquiries for every type of sex imaginable that I had ever seen.
 Despite that aspect of Craigslist, the woman I spoke with had found several great options for sitters with a well worded ad in the childcare section. I figured it was worth a try, but I knew my husband wasn’t going to agree. He was the paranoid, neurotic Chicken Little to my instinctual yet controlling Que Sera Sera. We were very “Dharma and Greg” in a lot of ways and had many differing opinions on how to navigate child rearing. My notions usually prevailed, since I spent most of my time with Big, but once in awhile he would have moments of brilliance.
His favorite example of this was in regards to the little tea set she got for Christmas when she was one. He insisted we remove the little cutlery from the set as it posed, in his opinion, a serious choking hazard. Well, everything, in his opinion, posed a serious choking hazard. He would take away grapefruit size balls, bunches of fake flowers, small dolls, insisting that she could swallow them. I asked him time and time again, “have you ever seen her try to cram a doll down her throat?” He was unrelenting, so all of the banned items remained on an upper shelf until he went to work, and then were mixed, by me, in with the general population of toys once again. I felt my opinion was more valid since I was the main caregiver and knew our child better than he did. Naturally, the minute he was home, she happened to be playing with a banned knife (no sharp edges mind you),and tripped and fell with it in her mouth. It wasn't serious, but the knife did dig into her soft palate which probably really hurt. No blood, no broken skin, but the cutlery has not seen the light of day since. Sometimes husbands do know best.
I eventually found a sitter. I will call her Eloise. She was 29 years old and looking to pick up extra baby sitting shifts. Her Craigslist post caught my attention because she was responding to a previous post in which the author had complained about paying 15 an hour for babysitting. Her response to this post was total admonishment, stating that “ most people research their auto mechanic more than they do a child care provider. People will pay a dog trainer 150.00 an hour but balk at 15 an hour to watch their kids”. As much as I didn’t love the idea of paying 15.00 an hour, it made sense. I emailed her and asked to come and meet us.
Since my husband was opposed to the Craigslist idea altogether, I fibbed and told him that she had been a referral from a yoga class I had taken. She met us on a Saturday.She came into the house-petite, light brown hair and kind, velvety brown eyes-and got on the floor almost immediately and played with Big. We peppered her with questions. Both of us had the instinct that she was normal enough to watch our kid, and we hired her on the spot. I called the references she gave and seemingly normal people on the other end of the phone spoke highly of her. The man I spoke with said that she is the only sitter that he ever felt safe leaving his kids with. She has been with us ever since. 
Since the beginning, Eloise always had other aspirations. She had already produced a couple of CDs of her music, which was a cross between Suzanne Vega and Fiona Apple, and in the last six months has been hard at work on a third CD which will be released soon. It is moody, piano heavy and perfect for a mellow rainy afternoon at home. Her success has prompted us to find other sitter options since her availability has diminished in the last few months.
As luck would have it, I met a lovely woman who taught yoga and also babysat on the side. I will call her Leslie. She co-hosted a friend’s baby shower with me and made wonderful food and seemed just wonderful all the way around. She was my age and married with dogs and trying to start a family. Her husband, Dan, was the focus of half the conversation at the baby shower because several of the ladies present had met him when he accompanied Leslie on babysitting jobs. They all gushed about how wonderful he was and how the kids just adore him. They often worked as a team and the consensus was that they were a real find.
I called Leslie the next weekend and asked if she could watch the girls( who were two and four) and she said “We’d love to”. I paused for a second, as I hadn’t imagined it as “we”, but went ahead and booked her anyway.
Then I started feeling really weird about having a man I had never met in the house with the girls without at least one of us being there. I know it isn’t fair. I am sure Dan is a lovely man and is as fabulous as described by the baby shower guests. I know that my apprehension is because I have watched too many Oprah child predator shows hoping to stave off the evil that is evidently lurking everywhere. I am fully aware that my over analysis of their praise of Dan was because of Gavin De Becker and his book “The Gift of Fear” in which he insists that we each honor that little feeling in our gut that tells us something isn’t quite right.
I called the friend that was the guest of honor at the shower, who has a girl the same age as Big. She vouched for Dan and said that her daughter loves him more than she likes Leslie. For some reason, this didn’t make me feel better. I ended up calling Leslie and telling her that my husband wasn’t comfortable with a man that he didn’t know babysitting the girls, regardless of the accolades. She seemed okay with it but I am sure thought we were crazy.
She watched them as planned, alone, and they had a great time. I overpaid her by accident, and we had meant to get together to rectify it but ended up chalking it up to the baby shower expenses and left it at that. I never called her back. I don’t really know why. It didn't feel right to have to politely request that she come alone again when I got the feeling she didn't really want to. The question is, was it me? Was it them? I will never know.
I think honoring one’s instincts is very tricky because the brain does not always agree with the gut. Rational thought is the enemy of basic instinct. I often wonder if my daily exposure (via the media) to the evils that are out there has tainted my ability to differentiate between what is valid and what is paranoid. I suppose I’d rather hurt someone’s feelings than have them harm my child because I second guessed my own initial response.
But it gets complicated.
I have been down this road before.
Before Little was born,  Big went to a gym class in West Hollywood. It was what everyone did with kids under two, so we went weekly and sang and played with balls and did quasi gymnastics. The teachers were nice enough young women, but the whole scene felt a little unnatural for some reason that I could never put my finger on. I think when you group a bunch of parents( mostly nannies) together with really little kids, the dynamic is often kind of chaotic. The kids are like pinballs, and every time they don’t do the activity like they are “supposed" to, the caregiver feels like their kid is somehow deficient.
Anyway, we had been going for a few months, and one day we arrived and there was a different teacher. His name was Chuck, and he was tall and nice looking with longish hair. I pegged him for an actor, and someone told me that he was the owner’s son. It seemed like a good idea to have a guy for a change, and, as we lined up to do the obstacle course, Chuck took his place at the last obstacle, and was going to spot the kids while they slid down the inclined mat to the floor.
Big did the balance beam. She climbed across the bridge.She swung on the rope. She was having a blast.As soon as she got to the bottom of the incline to climb up to where Chuck was standing and slide down, she froze. She started backing away and whining. It was as if a Rottweiler had poked his head up from behind the mat. She wanted nothing to do with climbing or sliding or Chuck. We walked away and waited for the next exercise.
I didn’t feel the need to push her- she was eighteen  months old for God’s sake. She seemed fine to continue with the next activity, so we lined up to do the rope ride. They had a track with a pulley and an attached  loop,  and the kids would hold on to loop and slide through the air back and forth while the teachers spot them. We watched a few of the kids try it. Chuck spotted from underneath, which meant he sometimes had to hold the kid up the entire way across because they hadn’t grasped the concept of “hold on tight” yet. Again, when our turn came, she bucked a writhed and tried to squirm away. This time I tried to gently push her to try it. The closer we got to Chuck, the more she freaked out so I walked away again. I actually got her hands onto the loop, but the minute he approached she let out a scream .We walked away. She had one more episode when he walked by us on the way out and the class was over. Twenty bucks down the drain. I let it go and figured that we would get back on track next week.
Well, Chuck wasn’t our regular teacher the following week, and she had a great time. We walked in the class the week after that, and there he was again. I ended up paying another twenty bucks to watch my kid panic.We left early. I had already paid for the series and it was a little awkward to address it with the owner without coming across as, well, aspersion casting. But our problem was definitely Chuck related.
I actually ran it by another mom who took a different class with Chuck.She said that no children in her class had any odd reaction to him but that her sister noticed that he patted all of the kids on the butt after each exercise. I hadn’t noticed that at all but I couldn’t get anywhere near him without Big going into overdrive.
As we discussed it, I started understanding how people's lives are ruined by exactly this sort of speculative chatter. He hadn't actually done anything, and I certainly wasn't trying to stir up trouble.I did want to know if this was our issue or  an issue because,while I considered my child to be the epitome of intelligence and sensitivity, I wouldn't credit her with an innate ability to sniff out pedophiles.If several other kids/mothers had a similar reaction to Chuck, it still did not peg him as a child molester but perhaps as someone who doesn't work well with kids.
At any rate, it always made me wonder if anyone else ever had a similar experience. We never went back because it was a waste of money when Chuck was in the room, and I found another class that suited us.
And still, I have to ask...was it me? or was it him? hmmmm....
Then- cut to several weeks ago at the Farmer's Market. Big, Little and I were enjoying our sprinkle cookies at a table and chairs adjacent to the coffee shop and the parking lot.We were headed home after an afternoon of hanging out. The girls had just begun the process of scraping all of the sprinkles off of their cookies with their front teeth when a man came bounding up to our table. He was white haired and heavyset with glasses- could have been an old looking sixty to maybe seventy five years old. He looked like he needed to sit right away, and our table had one empty seat. He was breathing heavily and asked me in a very thick Eastern European accent if he could sit down. I nodded, as he seemed harmless.
Both girls were licking their cookies and staring at him. He started complimenting Big's hair and asking for a bite of her cookie and teasing her a little. I would call it flirting if what happened next hadn't happened.
 He asked her for a kiss. She said no. Then he said," come here, I want to tell you something".
I was sitting right there and trying to figure him out. Was he a lonely old dude looking to be cheered up by some cute kids? Was he a creepy old dude looking  to grope someone small? Big walked over to him, smiling impishly, accepting his dare, and he grabbed her wrists and tried to kiss her. I mean he really grabbed her.She struggled and wriggled away before he actually did anything, but he really put up a fight.Thankfully, so did she. It all happened so quickly that she had already freed herself and gone victoriously back to her seat by the time I would have been able to get up and punch his fucking face. And it was all subtle enough that I wasn't sure if I had seen what I had just seen, or was I misreading the situation?I had started to say something like "no,no, don't touch my kid", but she handled it herself.  I also couldn't figure out how to tell him that I was on to him because I wasn't sure if I was on to him or not! I had that little voice telling me one thing and my brain rationalizing that he meant no harm, he's not from here, he was just playing too roughly etc. Then he looked at Little and started the same routine. I stood, scooped everybody up and walked right to the car.
I felt totally freaked out. I was appalled that some dirty old man had even gotten his hands on Big at all. I felt like I had failed as her protector. It relieved me to see that she put up a serious fight and wasn't going to let him kiss her. I hope it reinforced her confidence for future incidents. I wonder if I had jumped in and caused a scene if she would have just seen it as me giving some old guy a hard time or would it have validated her own feelings that this guy should keep his disgusting hands to himself? Or was she blissfully unaware?
At any rate, all of these experiences lead me to the same conclusion-I don't trust my gut enough and I probably should. what is the worst that could happen? So some Ukranian guy will have a story about being attacked at the Farmer's Market by a crazy woman protecting her children. If the police are involved,based on the shit they have seen, I think they will understand my position and let me off the hook.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Nice Hat

For whatever reason, I have always wanted to make a difference in the world. Ever since I can remember, I have had dreams of saving people/animals/spiders from terrible circumstances and helping them find a better life.
That stopped when I had kids. I am now fully invested in trying to keep my kids safe from terrible circumstances as well as alive, healthy, and free of cavities. I have killed a few spiders since giving birth, which I am not proud of, and have driven past countless stray dogs and people because I can't put them in the back seat of my car like I used to. They might bite the nose off of one of my children and, since I think they both have my nose, I'd like to keep it that way.
In my youth, I was much more interested in doing my part than I am now. I had been involved in animal rights for a few years but wanted something a little more hands on. Somehow, I convinced my sister to sign up with me to volunteer for the Guardian Angels.
For those of you that aren't familiar the Guardian Angels, it is "a non-profit, international, volunteer organization of unarmed citizen crime patrollers". It was founded by a guy named Curtis Sliwa to combat New York City subway crime. Battalions of unarmed red beret wearing men and women would walk the streets in formation and deter crime wherever they saw it. They aren't technically a vigilante group but pretty damn close.
We spoke with Manny on the phone and then went down to headquarters, which was in a dilapidated strip mall in Korea Town (before it was known as K-town) across the street from MacArthur Park. The office was dark and disorganized and the Angels that were hanging around were a disparate looking bunch. Manny, our captain, was a heavy set Latino guy wearing a red beret, who sat us down and gave us the spiel. Lisa, another captain, was in her mid twenties, Caucasian ,scrawny but tough and looked like she had lived a fairly hard life. She had dyed blonde hair and the scars from disfiguring acne. There were a couple of random guys whose names escape me and a heavyset Latina chick named Christine. We signed papers, which I can only assume waived all rights to sue for and bodily injury or death sustained while participating in Angel associated activities. We were instructed to go to the surplus store and get our "colors"- white t shirt, black pants, black boots and the most important item, the red beret. I am sure as our eighteen and twenty year old white-as-the-driven-snow, private school educated, 5'6" and 5'4", 125 lb. asses walked out the door, they must have had a good laugh.
If they did, they never let on because when we reported back the next night for training, fully dressed in our "colors" and lined up with the nine or so other new recruits, no one was laughing. The group was headed by an intense black dude whose name escapes me. Let's call him Roc. As he walked up and down the line, I kept waiting for him to accuse someone of "eyeballin'" him and start asking if we were "steers or queers" and make us all do one hundred pushups. He didn't. He did explain our purpose, which was to act a deterrent to street crime and intervene only when necessary. He also said that we needed to learn the basic defensive moves to protect ourselves in the event of a throwdown ( aka fight). He looked everyone over for a moment and decided that the best option if a throwdown occurred in the next few hours was for the four women (ranging in age from 18 to 25 and weighing anywhere from 110 to 175 lbs) three of whom had zero combat experience, to form a circle with our backs to each other and then the remaining recruits and captains ( six or seven guys ) would form a second backward facing circle around us. Basically, the men were going to try to keep the women from getting their asses kicked. My sister and I exchanged a few looks but tried to avoid eye contact for fear of laughing.
After the throwdown drill we were informed that, once it got dark, we would be walking over to the park across the street to do some training. It was probably six thirty or so and the plan was to leave by six forty five. As we waited, suddenly there were two huge bursts of noise outside, could've been gunfire, could've been an aging muffler. The Angels took no chances. Everyone hit floor, and we followed suit. Manny belly crawled to the front door (which took some time and effort as he wasn't a small guy)to assess the damage and someone else got on the walkie talkie. Roc came back on the walkie talkie and told us to stay put.
As we lay there on the filthy carpet, I saw the silhouettes of two little girls cross in front of the office door, which was now open. Manny was on one knee, peering out the door to see what went down, like an over-zealous extra in an episode of Barretta. The girls, who were probably eight, looked at him as they walked by and looked back in the direction of his gaze. They shook their heads and kept on walking until their shadows disappeared. Not only did no one instruct them to hit the floor, but we must have stayed that way for five more minutes until we got the all clear signal from Roc on the walkie talkie. For a group with a reputation for bad assery they sure were a cautious bunch. The source of the loud noise was determined to be back fire from a vehicle. I suppressed the urge to say " well duuuuuhhhh.."
We fell into formation (two straight single file parallel lines of three) and marched over to the park, which was infested with drug dealers, drug addicts and general riff raff. It is a miracle we didn't encounter anything at the park since it was, at the time, one of the most dangerous parks in the city. We marched to the amphitheater and fell out of formation for calisthenics. Now, understand that the first form of group exercise I was exposed to was "jazzercise", which was a combination of aerobic jumping and repetitive toning exercises that gave you strong lean muscles. We wore puffy sleeved striped leotards and headbands like Jamie Lee Curtis in "Perfect" and everyone had their bottle of Evian and a towel. Calisthenics, on the other hand, were considered horribly outdated and extremely hard on the body, wrenching the muscles this way and that. At the risk of acquiring the nickname “Private Benjamin", I kept my mouth shut and did the squat thrusts as instructed. After an hour of jumping jacks, lunges and sit ups, we ran for a mile or so and headed back to headquarters.
Manny informed us that the next night, which was Friday, would be the first patrol. We were going to Hollywood.
We could have walked from our apartment, but in the interest of camaraderie, we drove all the way down to headquarters to be briefed on the evening patrol. There were a few new faces, clearly more seasoned Angels, who had been called in to join our excursion. All told, roughly fourteen people crowded into a Nissan Sentra and someone's rusted out van with a gazillion bad paint jobs. I was squished with Manny, Christine and two other dudes in the Sentra, and my sister went with Roc, Lisa and the rest of the random guys.
On the ride over to Hollywood, Manny revealed that the core group-Lisa, three other guys and he all lived together in a single apartment on Hollywood Boulevard across the street from the Fredericks of Hollywood building. They described the partying and the craziness of their daily lives and all I could imagine was the floor littered with Miller Lite cans and cigarette butts, old pizza sitting on the coffee table for days. Not to mention the reality of five people sharing a bathroom and attempting to have relations amongst a crowd.
I felt grateful for my shared one bedroom. Yes, someone slept in the living room but, at least there was some sort of privacy.
We parked the Nissan just off the Hollywood Boulevard exit and walked across the freeway bridge to Vine Street. We met up with the other team and again, my sister and I avoided eye contact for fear of laughing. It was all a bit surreal but as much of an adventure as I had ever taken. I imagine the conversation in her vehicle was similar to mine.
We split into the two teams and Roc told us the protocol. We were to march in formation down the middle of each side of Hollywood Boulevard and keep our eyes open for any sort of criminal or illegal behavior. At intersections we were to fall into a four point formation where each of us took a side of the curb and knelt down on one knee to stay low to the ground and survey the scene. Two others would stand behind us as lookouts. When the light turned green, we were to fall back into the single file lines and proceed. We were to continue in this manner all the way down the boulevard to the McDonald's at Hollywood and Highland and stand guard for the better part of the evening. In exchange for our protection, we would be given free meal coupons.
My sister and I looked right at each other for the first time all night. McDONALD'S??!! Are you fucking kidding me? Can't the rain forest raping corporate behemoth afford its own protection? Our social contribution was to facilitate more business for the company responsible for the some of worst man made ecological devastation ever?! I was flabbergasted.
Well, there wasn't time to argue. The teams split up, and we fell into lines. I was the second person on the right side. We began walking. Manny lead us in the front on the left, then Christine, then two randoms who I never got to know. They began walkie talkie communication immediately, which was a lot of "all clear", "nothing going on" etc. The first intersection came where we had to stop and Manny called out "on point!", and I ended up on the outside curb down on one knee. I surveyed the street, which had some cars driving by and people jaywalking but nothing that needed reporting. The light turned green and we fell back in line. This lasted for a few blocks. Then we started getting into the tourist area where the sidewalks were fairly crowded with people buying souvenirs or soliciting audience members for game shows. People stared. Some people snickered. The street was now choked with cars (this occurred just before the "anti cruising" legislation went into effect that banned people from driving up and down more than three times). Carloads of people would drive up and down a ten block stretch all night long looking for something to do. There were so many cars doing the same thing that they would basically sit in gridlock for the better part of an hour to get down to the end only to turn around and sit in traffic the other way. As we approached the gridlocked traffic the light turned red and Manny called "on point!". I knelt down again and surveyed the scene. My knee was starting to hurt. This time I was four feet from the chugging tailpipe of a low rider car filled with people. They were hanging out the windows staring at us. One of the girls leaned out the window.."umm, did you lose something?" . I didn't answer." what are you looking for?" she asked again, laughing a little. She was right to laugh.I looked like a total asshole. The light turned.We fell back in formation. The car erupted with laughter and cat calls, and all I heard was "nice hat" before we were swallowed up by the foot traffic. I put on my best tough gal face and and marched on. The guy behind me leaned in and hissed " try not to look so scared...". I supressed the urge to echo the sentiments of my hecklers, as he looked particularly stupid in his beret, but I kept quiet.I furrowed my brow even harder and narrowed my eyes and did everything I could to do justice to my "colors". And I wasn't scared. I was mortified.
By the time we reached McDonald's, we had heard every possible insult that one could hurl at a group of people walking in formation dressed in red berets. I wished we were some rogue Marcel Marceau band of mimes who went out and heckled people, or even a band of bank robbers about to pull off a heist. Anything but what we were, which was just lame. We were positioned outside the McDonald's in shifts so everyone got a chance to eat. I took one of the first shifts. I hadn't seen my sister in awhile and was hoping she was having more fun than I was. Her team approached and, as they went inside to eat, she rolled her eyes at me. I valiantly stood guard, protecting McDonald's from the evil tourists and street performers that wished to do it harm. People took my picture. People stared in my face like I was standing outside Buckingham Palace. One enormous drunk hulk of a marine pushed against me with his well muscled elbow as he walked by and muttered under his breath "I could crush you all....". I think I peed my pants a little.
After dinner ( french fries), we walked back down towards Vine Street. The thrill was gone. I just wanted it to be over. About half way to the car, Roc came on the walkie talkie requesting immediate backup and we all run, in formation, across the street to assist. I am petrified that my sister might be in a throwdown and am close to vomiting. We run down the street and into an alley where her team has cornered three drunken homeless people who were taking a piss. It is all I can do not to take of my beret, throw it on the ground, grind it a little with my combat boot and walk away. But we have to get our car back at headquarters.
We posed for a few more pictures, endured a few more insults and finally got to the car. The other team is already loaded up, and we all convoyed back to K-town. There are a lot of high fives and a short debriefing in which our team is commended for arriving so quickly when back up was requested. Everyone says goodbye. Manny invites us to their place for a party. We politely decline, backing slowly away as discreetly as possible and sprinting for the car before they catch on that we are so not Guardian Angel material. I stood a better chance of becoming one of "Charlie’s Angels" than surviving another night as a Guardian Angel.
In closing, I came across an article about the Angels and their return to Los Angeles:

Article reproduced from:

Guardian Angels Return to L.A. Streets
By Nikki Usher, Times Staff Writer
They were wearing their trademark red berets, white shirts and combat boots. But on Hollywood Boulevard,amid the throngs of tourists and street performers impersonating Marilyn Monroe, Superman and Batman, they barely stood out.
"I want a picture of you guys!" said Mike Cow, a tourist from San Diego. He turned to a bystander and added:

"They're weird. I've never seen them before."

It was perhaps not the most auspicious reintroduction for the Guardian Angels, who this summer returned to the streets of Los Angeles for the first time in a decade.

The volunteer citizens brigade, using martial arts and citizen's arrests, gained national attention in the 1980s by patrolling inner-city neighborhoods that are plagued by crime.

While the Angels made their greatest mark in New York City, the group also had several hundred members in seven branches that patrolled neighborhoods from Venice to the San Gabriel Valley in the 1980s and early '90s.

They left amid complaints from police and after several members had been attacked — one fatally.

Back then, the Los Angeles Police Department "would treat us like we were the Bloods or the Crips. And since the police didn't respect us, the gangs didn't," said Curtis Sliwa, the group's founder.

Now they're hoping for a renaissance. The group has come back to a Los Angeles different from the one it left,where community policing has taken root and crime rates are generally lower. Sliwa said the Angels have changed with the times, working more closely with police and conducting more training for volunteers. Sliwa said the group decided to come back to Southern California because of LAPD Chief William J. Bratton,who worked with the group when he was chief of the New York Police Department in the early '90s.Bratton, who became L.A.'s chief two years ago, has offered a conditional welcome to the Guardian Angels. He said his experiences with the group in New York were largely positive. But he's reluctant to see the Angels in some L.A. neighborhoods. He said patrolling Los Angeles is much more challenging because the city is spread out and there are fewer officers to back up the Angels. Moreover, he said,the group's conspicuous presence and aggressive tactics could backfire in the city's strongest gang enclaves.

"If they wear those red berets in the wrong area, the gangs will shoot them in a second," he said.

So far, about a dozen Guardian Angels have begun regular patrols along Hollywood Boulevard and at MacArthur Park.Bratton said he's comfortable with the group's presence in Hollywood, a tourist district that already has strong police staffing.

"The visibility and eyes and ears they provide is fine, but just don't do it in areas where they are going to be in great risk and danger," the chief said.

Others aren't so sure.L.A. City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, the police chief from 1997 to 2002, said that he couldn't support the Angels, and that professional police officers should be the only ones doing law enforcement work.

"It's hard enough to train police and keep them abiding by the law," he said. "These were people we knew nothing about."

Since the Guardian Angels left Los Angeles, the LAPD has tried to work more closely with community leaders to identify and target high-crime areas. Los Angeles also established a network of neighborhood councils that have a voice in law enforcement and other city policies.But the Angels have yet to establish ties with the councils, according to community leaders in Hollywood and atMacArthur Park, who said they were surprised to hear that the group was back in town.Sylvia Valle, a MacArthur Park neighborhood activist, said she worries that the patrols might make the situation in her neighborhood west of downtown less stable.

"There are four gangs in the radius of two blocks. This is just going to add fuel to the fire," she said.

Hollywood community activist Ferris Wehbe worked with the Angels when they helped patrol the Yucca Street area in the 1980s. He said that effort was effective because the group worked with neighborhood groups. This time, however, he doesn't see that partnership.

"We don't really need them here," he said. "The reason they worked in Hollywood was that they were connected to what the community was doing and really knew us…. I have had no indication of that happening this time."

In the 1980s, when the group was most active in Los Angeles, it had a decidedly mixed record.

It garnered praise when members patrolled the 1984 Summer Olympics. But a few years later, Sliwa was arrested for allegedly clubbing a man in an area of Hollywood the group had sealed off in an unofficial drug sweep. In 1993, in one of several attacks on group members, Angel Glenn Doser was shot to death when he tried to stop a robbery in Hollywood.

The Guardian Angels of the past, Sliwa and others said, could be aggressive and intimidating. They'd march into high-crime areas and ask tough questions, look for confrontations and try to break up drug deals.

"They were just these young guys and women, many of them ex-gang members, looking to rough someone up,get into a little trouble and feel like they were on the side of the right," said Todd Clear, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

The L.A. group has so far been drawn from veteran Southern California Angels and a few new recruits. There's a mix of young and old, and a few women. Sliwa says they're better trained than the Angels of old.

Under new policies, recruits undergo three months of standardized training, during which they learn martial arts and how to make citizen's arrests. They are also subjected to verbal abuse to see how they respond. Guardian Angels are not armed, though many carry handcuffs and cellphones.Though they've been absent from Los Angeles, the Guardian Angels have remained a force in other cities,mostly on the East Coast. In Washington, D.C., members are working so closely with police, patrolling gang and drug areas, that the department gave them police radios.Sliwa said the Angels want to pick "mild" targets in Los Angeles, building a record of success, before going into more hostile gang areas. So far, he said, members have encountered little action.

During a recent evening patrol in Hollywood, members didn't make any arrests or break up any drug deals, but they did help an elderly woman and her caretakers push a wheelchair over the curb at Hollywood Boulevard and Ivar Avenue.An appreciative Vernadette Rebold smiled from her chair and thanked them.

"We remember you from 20 years ago, in New York," she said.

Patrol leader Dave Eagle shrugs when asked about the lack of public memory about their Los Angeles days.

"Sure, we're remembered for New York, and maybe people don't remember us here, but we were here and we are here," said Eagle, who was with the group during its Los Angeles heyday. "It's hard to compete with where you started."

I think that pretty much sums it up.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fame Shmame

"Fame is rot:daughters are the thing"- James Matthew Barrie (aka -created Peter Pan).

Rot, huh..? I wish I had considered that before I practically flunked out of high school and rushed to Los Angeles to pursue my own rot, er, I mean  fame. It wouldn't have changed my mind, though. I was lucky enough to have the full support of my family, both emotionally and financially, and Los Angeles was a lot closer to my home town than New York. But I could never do it now. In the immortal words of the Cowardly Lion "no way, no how...."
I graduated from high school in white acetate gown with no one in the audience. It wasn't them, it was me. I really didn't give a shit if people cheered for me when I accepted my diploma. I just wanted to get the fuck out of there.
Soon after, I said adios to my family and drove in my classic 1967 buff colored VW BUG stuffed with my belongings, to Hollywood. I chose to drive past the Highland exit that the directions suggested and take the scenic route instead- from the Hollywood Boulevard exit all the way back through Hollywood to my slightly west of La Brea apartment. The year was 1987 and, while I drove I heard the Ry Cooder song about Hollywood in my head :
"Going down in Hollywood
You better hope that you don't run out of gas
Down in Hollywood
He'll drag you right out of your car and kick your ass
Down in Hollywood
They're standing on a corner waiting for a sucker like you
Down in Hollywood
Now, if you want to stay healthy just keep a-moving right on through
Be careful, don't look back, keep moving, keep moving "

Well, Ry was right. I somehow thought that it would have changed since 1979 when the song came out. I drove down Hollywood Boulevard wide eyed, past several  adult movie theaters,live peep shows, and dozens of tourist shops that I would visit later only to find they contained t-shirts with things like "ass man" on the front or endless rows of mini oscars engraved with names like " Shelly" and "Ralph" but never my name.
I did not see one single celebrity walking down the boulevard as promised by the Hollywood myth. The sheer number of obviously disenfranchised individuals on the street alone was staggering.It  felt dirty just driving through.
I crossed La Brea and things looked a little less seedy. But it was not what I had expected.
My sister and I had rented a one bedroom apartment on Poinsettia Place, right up the street from Rock n' Roll Ralphs.  It had a cool nickname because the Gutiar Center was down the street and every scrawny dude hoping to become a rock star was wandering around the produce section  in their leather bomber jackets and greasy hair pulled back with a grungy bandana.Someone also had their throat slashed in the condiments aisle at two in the morning, so it definitely deserved some sort of nickname(perhaps Shop til you Drop Ralphs would have been more accurate.)
I enrolled in commercial acting classes to capitalize on my "fresh faced look" ( read slightly chubby and freckles) and was profoundly disappointed when the teacher  kept giving  me  the Arby's counter person or the Pizza Hut delivery gal spots. Beside  the fact that I was a vegetarian,this was certainly not what I had passed on college to do. I spent my time in high school drama class playing Goody Proctor and doing one woman shows about Anias Nin. My angst amused the teacher, and he nicknamed me "Pup". I was actually kind of flattered in the beginning, since it obviously meant that I was making an impression on him. No one else had a nickname. As time went on, though, it made me feel a little condescended to, and I finally asked my teacher to,  please, stop calling me pup.
He blanched and never looked me in the eye again. He would mumble my name uncomfortably when it was my turn, and I would go up and read my material, baffled at how I could have gone from "pup" to " crap" in such a short period of time. I found myself wanting to say " Okay! I will be Pup! I loved being Pup! PLEEEEEAAAASEE call me Pup again?" . The name died that day, and I left the class soon after thinking the teacher must be psychotic to treat a naive fresh-off- the-boat newbie in such a manner. It didn't matter. I was awful at commercials.
I had signed with a small children's agency through a manager I met by fluke.I was eighteen, so a little long in the tooth to be catagorized as a kid, but they didn't seem to mind.They began submitting me for projects, and soon I booked my fist t.v. job, playing a blubbering homeless teen opposite Anne Archer. I was in heaven.
A few months later I got another job, a featured player on a series called " A Year in the Life"and got my SAG card. My parents cried when they heard the news, and I was never sure if it was from relief or from joy.
My grandmother, who was paying for my Big Hollywood Adventure, saw the show on t.v. and thought I was the lead- the pretty blonde petite daughter who is in almost every scene. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I was the not so petite friend of the friend's friend who made the dick joke.
Los Angeles was not without it's negatives. My Bug was stolen twice, and eventually stripped. We had Russian squatters move in  next door who partied all night and day.We had witnessed our super,Gaetano,swing a shovel at a old woman's head.He missed , but we took this as a sign to move on.
We moved east, and soon after, my other grandmother sent me an article about the nine unsolved murders that had taken place within a two block radius of our apartment on Poinsettia during the two years we had lived there.That didn't include the Rock n' Roll Ralph's incident, but it scared the shit out of us. Our new place was in a worse neighborhood, but somehow trouble never found us.
While we hadn't become a murder statistic,I was quickly becoming an actress/waitress statistic.
Against the odds,  I was very slowly swimming into the more plentiful part of the sesspool, er, pond that was Hollywood. From 1987 to 2001, I worked off and on doing tv movies, commercials and films. I took acting classes with almost every teacher out there and have about twenty five different head shots to date.I shared management with Michael Jackson,Dolly Parton,Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger, to name a few and shared the screen with Clint Eastwood, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert Urich, Ben Johnson, Matthew Perry, Jane Curtin, Alyssa Milano,Dan Butler,Kelsey Grammer,Ben Affleck ( got to faux make out with him) and many many more.
Honestly,I am not trying to drop names or impress anyone with my experiences, because they were all fraught with their own issues.I am actually trying to illustrate that I really did have every opportunity possible. I can't say that the business failed me. I auditioned for everything and everyone who was ever in the business. I guess it just wasn't what I thought it would be.
Now, I had a couple of "big breaks" along the way: in 1989 I booked the fifth lead in a mini series that was directed by the  phenominal English director of "Four Weddings and  Funeral". I spent nine weeks in Canada and made more money than I had ever made in my life.Looking back, it was actually not much more than scale, but it was a lot to me. After the miniseries aired I had what was called "heat" and was sometimes havings upwards of three meetings a day. Random agents called my house trying to lure me to somewhere bigger and better. I never left because I alwys thought loyalty was a good quality, but not so in Hollywood.
I think self preservation is the game everyone else is playing, so I was a bit of a fool not to look at my options when I had the chance. Still, I persisted,driving  my 1985 Chevy Sprint  to my meetings and working catering jobs to pay the bills. I tested for the lead in almost every successful sitcom on tv and never booked anything.
It was 1991, and I was catering with a guy who went to high school at Beverly Hills High. All of his clients were old classmates who had gone on to run huge agencies and studios, and I routinely visited their homes and fed them burritos. I had no idea who they were but knew the names from other people's conversations.
One of my boss' classmates also ran a medium sized agency, mine in fact, and when we pulled up to the building in the catering van I got a horrible feeling in my stomach. I asked which floor the Christmas party was on and when they said "third" I knew I was fucked. Nothing more impressive than seeing your client scraping sour cream off the rug and carrying heavy chafing dishes up and down stairs.
Needless to say, they were mortified.Uncontainably so. Every time I would enter a room with a tray or wipe up someone's mess there would be this gasp of sorts, and a lot of hushed mumbling. I think one of the reasons they were embarrassed was that many of the clients had been invited to this party. I was not one of them. At any rate, I got through it without crying and, right before we left, the head of the agency called me into his office. He offered me a cigarette and said  "You have done a very smart thing.Next year will be a good year for you". I said something innocuous and shook his hand. And he was right.
In 1992 I booked  five jobs and had to turn down a sixth, a guest spot on "Star Trek" due to a scheduling conflict.They had already fitted me for the spandex unitard,blonde mushroom cap wig and webbed nose bridge, so I guess I should consider that a dodged bullet.I earned over eighty thousand dollars in that year and did not invest it, did not drink it or snort it, did not give it to a reckless boyfriend ( okay well he did steal some..), but somehow at the end of the year I was still in the same spot- broke, waitressing, auditioning, training, WAITING. Always on call, at the ready, waiting for the phone to ring. When it did, everything else was dropped and the opportunity was forefront. That meant never making plans that were important,which is why actors are known to be flaky-they have to be. The process was exhausting.
When the call came, it was usually at five oclock and the audition was usually the next day.I would have to drive to pick up the material and would spend the evening rehearsing and trying to memorize the pages.
There are so many specific stories that I will save them for another post, but, generally,  I would go to the appointment, usually wait for upwards of an hour, go in, meet and greet,read with the casting director and leave. I would go home and analyze exactly what happened to give myself an idea of my chances of a callback.If the agent called, it was a callback.If I  had to call them , it was feeedback:( all actual feedback I received)

"too old", "too young", "should never wear black","too heavy","oh, you lost a lot of weight( not happy)"," "have you gained any weight?", "funny looking teeth( oddly that was for a play)", "needs to go back to acting class", "not all american enough", "too intelligent for the part", "we already have a readhead", "moves eyebrows too much", "almost got it","was number two", "see you in San Francisco"( never called again), "you are what I always dreamed of looking like"(from woman), "wear something more flattering next time","what color is your hair anyway?", "this picture does not look like you", "you are not sixteen", "hang on, I have to get the phone ( mid audition-even paused the tape)- it's Mariska Hargitay", "I asked you to be funny, can you make it funny?"( angrily)," you are perfect" ( mouthed at me while on the phone with someone else).

Rude, arbitrary, some true, some untrue, contradictory,bullshit lies and excuses=feedback.

Then there was the advice."You need to learn how to work the room..."," You need to lower your vocal register,really speak from here( grabs crotch)", " You need to be ten pounds overweight or ten pounds underweight- normal is the kiss of death"," Nice is the kiss of death", "Some people will think you're pretty and some people will think you are plain( what am I Lizzy from "The Rainmaker"?)","You need to stop moving your forehead when you talk", "You can ever miss an audition.Sharon Stone never missed an audition"," get out of your head and you will fly"....huh?

My favorite bit of advice was gleaned a lunch I had with an agent (who is now in real estate), who took me to lunch because I hadn't booked in eighteen months. She said two things.One, is that she thought I needed to tell casting people that I have been out of town for the better part of a year,  so they don' t think I have been foundering, but traveling the world instead.Second, that I need to make a change, something, hair color, weight, -something needs to change and that will jumpstart my career. She had no suggestions about what aspect I might try and change, but she was certain it had to happen.Now, at the very moment she spit out this pearl, a homeless guy approached our table. She ignored him. I reached for my purse to give him a buck and he said "no, I just wanted to tell you how beautiful you are. Really...really beautiful.." .My agent smiled and shrugged  coyly and said "Well, that was nice...." like some incredibly handsome, successful bachelor had just invited me to Paris for the weekend.Not only did she miss the irony of the moment, but  I was tempted to tell her that perhaps the homeless guy should represent me from now on since he seemed perfectly happy with me just the way I was.But I was still under thirty and had not grown my fangs yet, so I nodded and kept brainstorming with her about what exactly was wrong with me and how we could fix it.
 I have the photos to prove my commitment to change something. I was raggedy ann red, bettie page black and variations of in between colors for the rest of my career. I knew the red was too much and it was a pain to maintain. The dark hair prompted my mother to tell me I looked like I was in disguise, so I scrapped that. I could never get the eyebrow shade right, anyway, either too light or dark and angry looking.I finally found my go-to shade,"Praline"and did that to myself every four weeks until I got pregant in 2004.
Like Vegas, opportunity knocks a lot in Hollywood. However, according to the experts, the winning combination is "opportunity meets readiness".
 Well, I guess I was never really ready. Auditions were a crap shoot. My most memorable audition,aside from the one for "Coach" where I went in at my agent's urging despite the fact that I had just had my wisdom teeth removed and was on Percocet and drooling like a mental patient, was for a redheaded biker for some show that was supposed to be the next big thing.I read the sides and imagined  a slightly manly, Harley riding well intentioned character, that was a little clueless, who was just trying to seduce a guy. Sort of Lennie Small meets Kathleen Turner meets Wynonna Judd. I arrived in jeans and a plaid shirt and sat on the floor in the hallway to practice. They called my name and, as I arose, I realized that something on the floor was wet and, now, so was my entire posterior. I entered the room and figured I'd come clean so they didn't think I peed my pants or anything.I tilted my right cheek to reveal the huge wet ass of my jeans and said something like " sat down in the hallway... yep...". The room was silent. All nine men and women were silent. I guess they had either seen plenty of wet ass walk through the door  or they were too mortified to speak.Either way, I went right into the audition and figured, given the situation, I might as well go for broke. I played it up,I played it down on one knee, I grabbed my heart. Half of them laughed, really hard.Too hard. I realized about half way through the audition that the other half were not laughing at all.They were watching in stunned silence. One woman even  elbowed the loudest laugher, and he shrugged like " what, it's funny..".
I was all wrong.They wanted a sexy redheaded biker.They wanted ALL Kathleen Turner and NO Wynnona Judd and CERTAINLY no Lennie Small.  I was so far from what they wanted that they were totally in awe, but not in a good way.Not in an" Oh my god let's re-write the part" way. In more of a
" what the hell is THAT?" sort of way. It just so happened that it was the same casting director that gave me my SAG card, and who read me while doped up on Percocet. I am sure she figured that my years in the business had given me brain damage. Needless to say I never saw her again.  Sorry, Megan, hope you didn't get into trouble on my account.
The funny thing is that, although it was embarrassing, it was kind of fun to make them squirm for  a change. I wasn't crushed at all by that experience at all because I knew what was happening.  They were laughing at me, one hundred percent, and I didn't really care.  At least I made them laugh.
My whole career was variations on the theme of not quite right.The miniseries  I did in the very beginning was reviewed by everyone and they all liked it. I got some good reviews. New York magazine reviewed the show and they put a picture of the star,whose daughter I played, standing next to an extra and put my name in the caption. The extra was at least ten years my senior and was emaciated, so I guess I should have taken the thin part  as a compliment, but it wasn't a picture of me!
 In high school someone joked that one day I would be in People Magazine.Well, yes, he was right, I was.The t.v. movie was directed by the guy who did the motion picture version of "The Flying Nun". It was  based on a true story about a guy who robs a bank and a chase ensues and many people are injured, a few die. In the story, at one point, the robber uses a retarded girl( played by me) as a human shield during a stand off.What picture did they use for the People Magazine promo? A close up of my grimacing retarded face with his arm around my neck, choking me. Pretty much the opposite of glamorous, folks. And they gave the movie a D. So there you have it.
Another movie afforded me a huge picture in the local paper but they spelled my name wrong and the photo was of the make up artist touching up a huge zit on my chin between takes. Fantastic.
Another time I had to play a pregant hostage victim and give birth under seige with no anesthesia. I was awful as I had no experience giving birth.We had one more shot to go before we wrapped for good and the script supervisor came in to correct someone's dialogue.They yelled "rolling" and, as she rose, she accidentally farted. It was little, but she made this Betty Boop style "whoops!" sound  and we all became hysterical.No one could stop laughing.For like five minutes.She was such a nice person, too but we were all exhausted after hours of faux birthing and yelling and chewing the scenery that it was inevitable. The director stormed off the set. I guess that would actually have to be a highpoint in my illustrious career.I haven't laughed that hard many times in my life.
Toward the end,I got a part in a Clint Eastwood movie.One day, one line.The best experience I ever had. Not only was the set a respectable, quiet, pleasant place to be, where no one yelled or rushed or criticized, but I was, for the only time in my life,  a hot piece of tail(every actor on the set was at least sixty if not older). It was a fabulous experience, though my performance was mostly blinking and listening. I really respect Mr Eastwood for figuring out how it should be done. However, I was not invited to the premiere and could not get my agent to find me a ticket. I was told that no tickets were left.Well, my future husband and I got all dressed up,just like the White House party crashers must have, and strode up to the check in table outside of the premiere. After they looked and couldn't find my name, my future husband said "well, she is in the movie"and the check in lady got out the program and searched for my name. There is was waaaayy down at the bottom of the cast list, my credit: "Jerry's girlfriend". We shashayed down the red carpet, and I was the happiest nobody in the place.

I started getting a little bored with the whole scene just after I hit thirty. I had met my future husband already, and we were getting pretty serious and eventually moved in together. His career as a talent manager( that is how we met- subject of a future post) began to take off as mine basically dwindled into dust. I had a series of mini careers and was all but finished when I booked a guest spot on a nightime show. It was meaty and a good part and I was kind of excited, but in the end I didn't really have a very good time doing it. It just wasn't fun anymore. I did a good job and sort of decided that the guest spot was probably my last gig forever. It really should have been. It would have been a great way to end a 15 year career.
However, I was offered a medical video job for a friend of a friend and it was decent money for a morning of work, to play a patient in a training video for medical professionals. They didn't send me a script but had it waiting for me when I arrived. It was meant as an outline and there were certian points that had to get across but the words weren't set in stone. I was feeling grateful that  I took those improv classes way back when.
I picked it up and read through it to discover that the last acting job I would ever have would be  playing a person suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which I understand is an awful affliction. I mean no disrespect but the dialogue was as follows:
doc-"good are you feeling today?"
me-"okay, but I have been better.."
" uh huh, when was your last bowel movement?"
"uh, this morning..."
" and how did that go...?"
" uh... it was.. um..... uncomfortable.."( excellent improv by me)
" can you elaborate? uncomfortable how?"
" uh  well, .."
" did you have to strain?"
" yeah.."
" do you often have to strain..?"
"yeah.. I do.."
" and what was the consistency?"
" .. uh.. kind of.. umm...watery ....and.....uhh..."
" oily?was it oily at all?"
"uh, yeah I guess so.."
And so it went for the better part of an hour until they had accurately captured the footage that conveyed the doctor's concern and the patient's shame.
Oh, it was pure Method ,folks, no acting required.
So to wrap up this extremely long post, if "fame is indeed rot" and  "daughter's are the thing", then I would have to be insane to allow my children, both girls, to ever set foot in a casting office,right?
I am not so sure what I will do when the day comes when Big wants to be in showbiz. She is a ham and a half and could probably pay for college in a couple of years with a few commercials and  a franchise. But then I am reminded of the two Coreys, who were lured into sex drugs and rock and roll at the age of twelve and never recovered.
If Hollywood is a real dream of hers, we will have to consider it. I do think there is something gratifying and kind of fearless about following your bliss.Even if it doesn't have a real future, going with your gut is important.You may discover your dream  it isn't what you thought it was going to be, but at least you saw it for what it really was with your own eyes.And other things come along and it all works out in the end., so far..will keep you posted...

Monday, December 7, 2009

I am the goo gajoob ga goo goo gajoob.....

It is no secret that my husband is a sports fan. He was raised in a culture of football, basketball and hockey from birth and there isn't a photograph in existence where someone in his family isn't wearing a tshirt or hat or sweatshirt bearing the logo of a beloved team.
It is also no secret that I detest most professional sports,but football gives me a black fizzle mark over my head that lasts for days. I have no interest in watching it,playing it or rehashing it in any way shape or form.I was raised in a family that eschewed team sports and chose singular activities including skiing, riding horses, hiking and inappropriate movies (I saw "Tommy" when I was six and went to the theater to see "Saturday Night Fever" when I was eight).
All of my early experiences with team sports were atrocious since I was awful at everything. Volleyball, soccer, softball- I dreaded it all and was always picked last for almost every team I was forced to play with.
I never scored the winning goal or served the set up shot that won the game, ever. The one time I happened to catch the softball waaaayy out in right field where nothing ever came, I simply put my mitt up in the air and closed my eyes. A miracle occurred. The teacher was absolutely shocked and actually ran out on the field mid game to congratulate me. That is how bad I was.
My husband, on the other hand, was a two time allstar hockey player, captain of almost every team he played with and  can still hold his own in any flag football,basketball or hockey game  that comes his way. He has albums filled with his newspapaper notices and photos of him with his hockey team. He often scored the winning goal and was never picked last, I assure you.He can also run like Forrest Gump.He starts and goes for an hour without stopping once. Many have tried to match his running stamina and no one has ever succeeded.
 While my husband also enjoys the things I like, he really likes watching sports, a lot. I used to join in and perkily cheer on the team along side him, sometimes cheering on the wrong team because I had no idea what was going on. It all looked like the same clip of a game- guys in different colors running around and then falling down- over and over again.
I put in my time trying to enjoy his hobby from the very beginning- before marriage and kids.We traveled to various stadiums around the country to follow "the team "  in football and basketball .Hawaii,San Francisco, Tucson, Minneapolis.We went to sports bars all around the country decked out in the appropriate colors and drank pitchers of Coors light and rubbed elbows with retired players and coaches. I would smuggle the Jack Daniels into the stadium in my underwear, and he would sneak it into his gigantic tumbler of diet coke with two straws. We would both get a little drunk, and I would get tired and he would cheer the team to the last second.If they won, he was elated and we would spend the rest of the evening out on the town celebrating the big win with hundreds of other fans. If we lost, he would sit as the fans filed out, crestfallen. We would go directly back to the hotel so he could sulk, or we would go get dinner somewhere that sports weren't being discussed. It was an aspect of the  college experience I never got to have.
If we stayed home when "the team" was playing,we usually had a party.The only alcohol related blackout I can recall having was at our  Superbowl Sunday  2003 party. We threw a huge shindig with food catered by me, indoor and outdoor tv's everywhere and plenty of booze.I had been asked to hide the money that all the guys bet on the game somewhere safe,which I did, and then promptly drank myself into a stupor and passed out. I awoke in the guest room hours later with no recollection of ever going in there, and  had an entire conversation about where I had hidden the money. I had no recollection of where I had put it but, evidently, I awoke, told my husband that it was in the third drawer down in the kitchen, and passed out again. Not exactly "The Lost Weekend" but unsettling as hell.
Another time I fell asleep  in the stadium during the third quarter of the big Arizona State-U of Arizona rivalry game. Thousands of fans screamed and cheered.We were right next to the unbelievably loud marching band.The noise was deafening. I slept on his shoulder with my head lolling about  like "a bladder on a stick" (thank you AbFab). In my defense,we had consumed about forty pitchers of Coors Light at Dirtbag's Bar and Grill (don't even get me started about that place) and must have gone to the bathroom a dozen times before we found our seats.Once I get that sleepy feeling, nothing short of an airhorn will wake me up. My husband  wasn't even upset.He was amazed, but not upset.
Now, I have tried to give some payback for the hours I spent sitting on uncomfortable benches next to annoying frat boys painted fire engine red from head to toe.I tried to come  up with something I liked, that he would dread so I could stop the inevitable wearing of the red jeans and blue blazer( team colors) that lay ahead after our retirement.
I first tried the opera, thinking it would kill him to sit through all that singing and drama that he couldn't understand.  I figured that he would really hate it.I even picked a German opera, thinking that it would be grueling enough to send him screaming from the mezzanine at the Ahmanson Theater and onto Grand Avenue. Well, my devious plot was foiled by the fact that he enjoyed the opera while I fought sleep the entire time,lolling head and all. I realized two things: I don't actually  like opera all that much, and he might just be the perfect  man. He likes it all.Fanfuckingtastic. I vainly tried a few spoken word events but Spalding Gray was actually interesting,so he was interested. The Mexican performance artisit Astrid Hadad was a little much for all of us.My grasp of Spanish only allowed me to understand about three percent of her dialogue. He didn't love it, but he didn't hate it as much as I disliked  football games.
Then I found it, his achilles heel( insert diabolical laughter here). Back then, my  place of employment was a West Hollywood bar kind of like the gay "Cheers". Amongst the wild variety of guests were a gaggle of drag queens who would descend after their show down the street and drink A LOT until closing.They had names like Bel Air and Sean De Lear and drank the complicated drinks that I always had to look up.They were hilarious,full of drama,raunchy jokes and were excellent tippers.  They put on a drag revue at a nearby club one weekend, and I forced my sports nut to go with me. Let's just say he was not a fan of drag revues in general. This experience did not change his mind.Without the fabulous lighting and the costume designer from the "Pricilla Queen of the Desert" on board, it seemed a little bit like watching your nine year old do a dress up show while  lip synching to an overplayed dance number.
My future husband was not impressed.He wasn't wrong, it wasn't exactly a Broadway show, but I liked it because they were my bar buddies who were really putting it out  there.Everybody  hooted and hollered except my man, who sat there looking grim and checking his watch or adjusting his jacket uncomfortably.
He was quiet as we walked to the car and made it abundantly clear that that would be the only drag revue of that caliber that he would ever see. I think he was responding more to the players than the lifestyle itself. He is as gay friendly as they come but they were definitely a motley fucking crew. Most of them had experienced something truly unrepeatably awful at some point in their lives. Some had HIV. All of them  were covering up serious deep wounds in their psyches with all those one liners and eyeliner and pancake makeup. They were the most empathetic, generous, touching bunch I have ever encountered.But they were some seriously fucked up individuals.
I guess it is asking a lot to get an alpha male, die hard sports fan, who has a tender nature to understand a buffed out, fully waxed, possibly breast implanted drag queen who tucks his/her testicles up inside the cavity were they were before they dropped (evidently kind of painful) to appear more female and then puts on clothes that most prostitutes would consider risque and prances around on a stage silently mouthing the words to someone else's song.I am sure he felt like we had entered some alternate universe where all the men were  wearing spandex mini skirts,red lipstick stiletto heels and Billy Idol sneers and all the women were in plaid shirts with no lipstick,work boots and also sporting Billy Idol sneers.

It eventually became apparent that I was truly miserable in the milieu that he so dearly  loved:the tailgate, the endless t shirts,hats, tote bags, bottomless pitchers of crappy beer.My attendance got spottier and spottier until he stopped asking altogether.Now he takes our four year old and that is fine by me. Do I  get a little nauseated when she trots out her mini cheerleading outfit and shakes her tush while she  recites the U of A Wildcat chant by heart? I would say so, but I have realized something very important.
 It's me.I am the weirdo, not him. As much as I would like to remain blissfully disdainful of this mass marketed,ignorance encouraging, over paid cultural void of a hobby that is football, the fact that millions and millions of people ascribe to it has to lend it some legitimacy.At some point, if everybody else is watching it and embracing it then, by default, I become the freak. Sort of like when you have those weeks where everyone else is always an asshole?At a certain point all you have to do to look in the mirror to find out who the real asshole is. Sigh....I still despise it though, just  for the record.
I LOVE BEING THE WEIRDO....I am the weirdo.Yep, that's me....Hell, I'll be the fucking walrus if I have to(whatever the hell that song is about)just don't make me watch anymore football....

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Okay, let's talk about gossip.
Here is an excerpt from the Bible about gossip:
Someone named James said to Jesus:
"And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell"
So Jesus said:
"But I say to you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account therof in the day of judgement.For by thy word thou shall be justified, and by the words thou shall be condemned"

So, Jesus, you are telling me that if/when I eventually float up to the pearly gates and St Peter is sitting there waiting for me that I will have to account for all of my gossiping I did while I was alive? I would expect to have to apologize for all of the awful jokes I retold involving various trios standing at the pearly gates (thanks to my grandfather), but atoning for gossiping? Jesus H Christ, Jesus, that will be one long line to stand in.

" ummm, and then there was the time in second grade when I told Jesse that Elizabeth picked her nose, and then there was the time also in second grade when I told Klaus that Jesse picked her nose..."

I mean, Christ Almighty, Jesus, it would take me a whole other lifetime to fess up to what I have said about other people.And I can assume I won't be standing in line alone- everyone talks about other people, it is human nature. Now,I don't recollect being particularly mean or gossipy as a kid, but perhaps I said or did hurtful things, and for that I am very sorry.( I really hope I didn't do that because I hated the kids that did.)
As an adult, gossiping is a totally different deal. I actually have a sign in my house that says "sit relax gossip", so I am certainly not trying to say that I don't gossip.I just don't intend it to be mean spirited.We aren't sitting around feasting on someone's misery or mocking people's attempts to better themselves or whatever malicious gossip actually entails. I find it to be extremely useful in the understanding of other people. Let's call it constructive gossiping.
If I have a strange experience with someone, where I am left holding a figurative bag of shit that I don't deserve, and I mention it to someone else, most of the time there is some sort of explanation. For example, there is a mom with whom I am acquainted, and every time I see her, no matter the circumstances, I leave feeling like I have done or said something wrong. She manages to interpret me and my intentions all wrong and it is really annoying because I don't even really like her all that much, but I want her to know that I am not the asshole that she makes me feel I am. I actually reconsidered being friends with a mutual friend of ours because, as much as I like the friend, if she is truly good friends with the mom I don't click with then what does that say about the friend?
Eventually it came out with some constructive gossiping that the mutual friend agreed with some of what I said, which was all true by the way, and I felt such relief that I wasn't imagining things. The mom in question has some major issues and many people react the same way I did when they interact with her. Ahh. sweet vindication...
However, I have a tendency to speak before I think, which I really don't like about myself, and it has gotten me into some trouble. In my attempt to further understand the issue ridden mom, I brought the subject up with another mutual acquaintance and only realized after her awkward silence and pained expression that she and issue mom are friends. Luckily I didn't phrase my inquiry about issue mom in a deprecating way but acquaintance mom gave me nothing. She could have said “oh she is a friend of mine so let's not go there" or “yeah she can be a little intense sometimes" but she just looked at me all deer in the headlights as if we were being secretly recorded and she didn't want to implicate herself. She wanted no part of constructive gossiping. A minor infraction but it was slightly embarrassing nonetheless. And, no, I never called her again.
The worst incident of my wagging tongue that comes to mind occurred pre marriage/kids when I was acting and hanging out with a group of friends having dinner parties and playing cards every so often. There was one person, who I shall call B., who was just delightfully funny and sweet, and I looked forward to seeing him whenever the events took place.
B. was also in my acting class at the time, and we got to talking during the break one day,and he told me that he had recently split up with someone because he knew he didn't want to marry her.He figured, why waste the time if you already know she isn't the one. I was reminded of all the time I had wasted with people that I definitely knew weren't the one and was kind of impressed at his ability to make such a calculated decision. A few weeks later, I attended one of the usual card games and there was a new girl, I will call her S.,sitting on the couch when I walked in.She was pretty and seemed nice and I was discreetly told that she was invited as a set up for B.
I had no interest in B. in "that" way, but was instantly jealous that someone else may soon be taking up all of his time and depriving me of his fabulousness at future events. I adored B. and like an overbearing mother,I sauntered over to suss S. out. Is she good enough for B.? Is she even funny?I sat on the floor next to her and we talked about B. I told her that all I knew,besides the obvious stuff, is that he did break up with someone after a short time because he knew he did not want to marry her.Probably shouldn't have said it, but B. didn't tell me in confidence.We were sitting around the studio with forty other actors. Still, total asshole move. Then I heard myself talking about him like I was a character in a Gigi Grazer novel talking about some hot guy at the office.I felt foolish and, as I got up to leave I said, in total self mockery:
" oh, and he has a really big dick.."
Now, if you know me, you know that I am 100% kidding. Not only have I never shared that sort of information about someone, but I don't recall ever assessing anyone in those terms before. And,I had no idea if B. was well endowed or not.It was a joke. I don't remember the rest of the evening but B. and S. begin dating and several weeks later B. and I were sitting in class chatting away and B. turned to me and said,
" you know, S. and I almost broke up because of you". I asked why, since, as I predicted, I had not seen him since they got together. He said "well, I guess you told her that I broke up with the last girl because I knew I didn't want to marry her" (I felt my face begin to get red -busted for gossiping by the gossipee!YIKES!).I started to backpedal, and he said "wait, that's not the reason. I guess at the party you also told her that I have "a really big dick" and she wants to know how you know that".
I was speechless.I actually had no recollection of actually saying it at the time because I was so mortified at having been caught gossiping.There was nothing constructive about it. I was ashamed because the last thing I would want to do is interfere with B's happiness.It also sounded really cheap and crass when he repeated it, even though I meant it as a joke.I can only imagine what went through S's mind. I told him that I never said that, and then the moment sort of popped back into my head. He smiled at me, sort of wryly and said " you did say it, and I actually thought it was funny but she was a little upset about it". I think he forgave me, but I don't really know. Months later I sheepishly attended a party at their new apartment and S. and I had one moment in the kitchen where we were alone.I had no idea how she felt about me. I must have said something like " nice apartment" and she said matter-of -factly " yeah, you are one of B's favorite people". It came out a little more like " too bad he actually likes you" but I can understand. She probably still thinks I am an awful person. No, S., I am not awful, just an idiot.They got married and had a kid and are a happy functional family despite my best efforts...

A friend of mine posted the following quote on her facebook page: "When one experiences truth, the madness of finding fault with others disappears"-Goenka. Well, that may be true, but in my experience, the truth about a person is in the details of how they behave and the choices they make. I mean, what is a person defined by? Their attributes? Their faults? How much they earn? This seems to be the main reason why I/people gossip, to figure shit out about other people and ultimately myself/themselves. But life it isn't always what it looks like so I suppose any kind of  gossiping is all in the interpretation.
Obviously this Goenka fellow has never navigated a preschool classroom brimming with nervous parents and clearly hasn't spent much time in junior high school or he would have said something more like ”In one's search for truth, other people's faults help light the way".

Okay, I am kidding. I am not such an egomaniac that I think I know more about life than S.N. Goenka.

I could have left the last paragraph to itself and allowed the reader to gasp in horror at my audacity in correcting one of the most prolific meditation teachers of the century. They would quickly forward the offending text to other easily honked off friends and all of them could shake their heads together at my profound ignorance. And gossip about how much weight I have gained and how my kid kicked the bumper of a stranger's car in anger last week. Tsk tsk tsk.....some people....

And what will I say to St Peter at the moment of truth? "St Peter, have you heard the one about the three Polaks who are standing at the gates of heaven...?"

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Fat and the Furious.......

I really want to like the holidays. I really do, but right now, I really don't. It starts with Halloween and the requisite stocking up on candy for the big night.Let's be honest.Most of it doesn't make it to the front door.It gets eaten on so many trips to upstairs closet where it has been hidden from the children.It really just needs hiding from me.I insist that they have only one piece after trick or treating, yet allow myself to consume unlimited amounts. That lasts for two weeks and then it goes right into the big eating holidays.
For the Thanksgiving break, I spent almost every waking minute with my kids, whom I love dearly.This has afforded me the chance to see all of their adorableness non-stop from six am to seven pm every single day, and I am really tired. When I get tired, I eat more than I should, hoping it will give me energy to play "Pop the Pig" or listen to yet another story about what Little said to Big about her dress not being pretty enough to be a real princess. Or the patience to not yell at the top of my lungs for them to stop fighting over the same plastic screwdriver in a room bursting with every toy known to man. Oh, I could be eating apples, carrots or celery with low fat dip and drinking my eight glasses a day, and I would fare much better than I am.

However, I cooked for five days to prepare a Thanksgiving feast that some called the best they'd ever had.
I had a lot of leftovers, like cornbread stuffing with butter,veggie sausage,chesnuts and sage; sweet potatoes with butter,bourbon, orange juice,maple syrup,pecans and marshmallows;brussels sprouts with butter, cream and faux bacon;salmon en croute with butter, mushroom duxelle;popovers with butter;pumpkin bisque with butter and cream-the list goes on. I have personally eaten most of the leftovers in my aforementioned attempt to find extra energy, and additionally, consumed multiple cups of coffee and slices of pie as chasers. I am possibly setting some sort of scientific record for surviving without water for more days than I can remember. Diamond Jim Brady has some competition in the house....

I actually ate a second Thanksgiving dinner for lunch yesterday-not the whole buffet, just a smallish plate with all of the usual suspects.Amazing that freezing really doesn't affect the texture much- and that sauce I made for the salmon was really fucking delicious.It was a lemon buerre blanc gone wrong( I had to stop watching it and go figuratively kick some under 5 ass, and it browned too much) that made a comeback with the addition of butter, ground chestnuts,balsamic,cranberries,cream and olive oil. It was really tangy and thick and yummy.And ridiculously fattening.

I have not even looked at the fat monitoring scale in my bathroom.A masochist's delight, it lets you know exactly how much of your body consists of fat.There is no positive message, like "and you also have a good heart, well defined calves and your hair is simply sublime". No , it just sends an electrical current up through your soles and spits out a number indicating the percentage of your body that registers as fat. My number is never within the AMA guidelines of 25-31 percent to deem my body fat acceptable. Like an abusive boyfriend, it calls me obese on a daily basis, and I can't help but feel a little insulted. Am I the picture of fitness? Certainly not. Am I going to die too soon because I carry around extra weight? Perhaps, but I do feel my mortality is more closely linked to my coordination ( ie tripping on a stuffed animal on a second trip to the fridge for ice cream and hitting my head on the stainless steel door) than the actual amount of fat I have somehow stopping my heart from beating and resulting in my death.

Perhaps the scale needs to be recalibrated, or I am in denial,but it does read one amount in the morning( when I do take an interest) and a wildly different amount in the evening( when I have already had a glass or two of wine).It is kind of like my own personal terror alert- it can go from yellow to orange and back again in a matter of hours with no evidence of anything actually affecting it.I might just die from the adrenaline surge that occurs when the number reaches an unprecendented high.

I can also go the conventional route and take a look in the mirror sans clothing .That generally tells me exactly what the deal is.While it is rarely pleasant, I am not sent into the expected tailspin after viewing my naked body bathed in an unforgiving overhead light. I am more tolerant of my body and its imperfections now that I am forty. I mourn the years spent shaking off the desires for bikinis and mini skirts because I wasn't perfect enought to wear them. If ever there was a time to wear that kind of thing, it was way before now.I look at mini skirts on younger women much like a retired stripper must reflect upon her prized faux patent candy apple red platform lace up stilettos-I could trot it out, but why? I am someone else now, and I would feel ridiculous,despite what current "cougar" culture espouses. I am now inclined to don boringly monchromatic hues, slimming well cut fabrics and age defying tunics over skinny jeans.Oh, I have a few little black dresses and some black satin stiletto boots in the closet for a frisky day, but I always end up feeling like a drag queen when I put it all on.

Which bring me back to the original subject- eating too much. As a result of my holiday indulgence, I am too fat to wear anything in my closet.Getting dressed "up" entails hours of combing through my closet in search of something flattering.It could be a plaid jumper in a lurid puce, or a rust colored one piece jumpsuit-if it made me look less fat, I would wear it. I end up dismantling my entire closet for one outing and run out of time to get anything else done. In the end, I wear the same black yoga pants, some sort of undershirt and a long concealing black sweater. A well placed neck scarf can hide an unsightly stomach and, if the proportions of the combined garments are right, I can actually look normal. For an afternoon-then it's back to the closet to try and try again.

I have had an excellent holiday season so far. Excellent food, family, friends.However, despite all of the goodwill I feel, I am really pissed to be back at the beginning again with my body. I had a wave of self care in April and it lasted through August. It waned significantly after that and has been dwindling daily.
My back hurts.
I have emotional outbursts.
Nothing fits.
Every day I am faced with holiday candy at school, baked offerings from friends, Sticky Toffee Pudding is back in the freezer at Ralph's.
I eat them all.
I know I will revisit the motivated jogger that I was from the early part of 2009, the person who loaded up the iPod and looked forward to an hour on the treadmill every day. She still exists,she who bragged about running a ten minute mile. She is still here, hibernating perhaps, under a nice thick layer of new holiday fat. She will awaken and rejoin the race to not die first.
She will emerge, legendary- The Fat and the Furious.
She will prevail.
Right after this last piece of Nancy Silverton's pumpkin pie.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

aint it humiliscratin'

Humiliation is generally something I try to avoid. It comes with the territory just  being alive,and, like most,  I have had my share.Not enough to really screw me up,but if it doesn't crush you, it probably builds character. Or sets you up for years of therapy, but either way,humiliation seems to lead to self awareness on one level or another.
My very first recollection of feeling humiliated was when I was  four,and going to preschool in Manhattan. Our play yard was on the roof of a very tall building and surrounded by chain link fencing. I wore a plaid kilt to school that day, and it was a teensy bit short.When I got on the swings at recess,someone noticed my underwear on my upswing and felt the need to shout it out.I don't recall if it was an "I see London,I see France.." situation and  it certainly wasn't  like the bathroom scene in "Carrie" either. But I recall crying and feeling that deep scarlett colored shame coarsing through my veins and sitting heavily on my chest. It is such a specific kind of feeling and,for me, the same every time. There is actually a photograph of me on that day, with a little red nose. I am  standing in front of the swing set with my hands clasped in front of me looking miserable.
Another moment that stands out was in highschool: I zoned out in math class and accidentally farted loud enough for most of the class to hear. I kind of farted myself awake in a sense and immediately realized that the noise I heard was me.Conveniently, our teacher had a habit of farting unintentionally while at the chalk board, and for a hopeful moment I thought it might be blamed on him.Well,I am no ventriloquist and it was clear that it was I who dealt it.Mercifully, it wasn't an odiferous offering, but the boys immediately seized upon it and there I was again, steeped in scarlett chest crushing shame. It didn't last once the class ended, but I certainly remember it like it was this morning. I always wished I'd been schooled in the Tallulah Bankhead  technique: supposedly she was accused of farting in an elevator and, when someone rudely inquired "Did you fart?",she replied in her delicious drawl," Of course I farted, do you think I always smell that way?". Brilliant.....Makes you want to fart in an elevator just to be able to say it.
Another kind of humiliation is employment shame- the humiliation of a job that you know is beneath you. I have had a variety of awful jobs to facilitate my acting career over the past twenty years.The first that comes to mind was working at a mall in Monrovia in the cosmetics department hawking Elizabeth Taylor's Passion. I was a perfume girl and was provided an electric purple lame` knee length shift dress to wear with gigantic fake diamond buttons down the front. I looked like a tranny football player with a tiny head because the shoulders were padded so heavily, and we were asked to slick back our hair into a minimalist bun.I was to spritz people as they passed,hoping that the fragrance notes of "moss,woods and vanilla"would so captivate them, they would buy a box for everyone they knew.The only reaction I got,aside from people putting up their hands in self defense was a woman who wanted to know where to purchase the outfit I was wearing.I was tempted to remove the garment on the spot,dress her,hand her the perfume bottle and calmly walk away.I lasted a week or so.
Next there was selling auto care subscriptions door to door in Simi Valley,which entailed convincing people to leave the dinner table to answer the door, then part with forty five dollars in exchange for special discounts on services at their local gas station. That lasted one long torturous afternoon.We were dropped off around five thirty and told to return to the van when we had ten filled out subscription cards.In the two hours they gave us,I managed to convince one person,primarily because he was too polite to slam the door in my face and partly out of sheer pity, to buy the subscription.Once we got back to the office, I turned in my lone check and walked away,never to return.
I retreated to restaurants,the one thing I knew I was good at. I chose catering for its flexibility,but it was no less humiliating than the last job,just different.I was often required to serve people food while wearing a series of humiliating outfits.They ranged from a floor length Renaissance period wench gown,replete with corsets and the requisite eye popping cleavage to a floor length tan safari style skirt and pants with a matching pith helmet.Most of these were surprise costumes, mind you, and for no extra pay either,so,you showed up to work and if you forgot to shave that day, or wore mismatched socks or a fire engine red brassiere,or had a lewd tattoo, it became everyone's business.Once we were even individually fitted at Gucci for black suits and kitten heels and taken to a swanky salon to have our hair and makeup done.They wanted a uniform look and went so far as to ask one of the men to remove his rather large wedding ring.He said no.They pushed.He threatened to leave and they backed off but put him in the scullery. Another time I was given a black band of makeup ascross my eyes to emulate Pris from "Bladerunner".I was lucky since I was then unrecognizeable and happened to get assigned to the VIP room where the entire cast of the tv movie I had just starred in was partying.All of this grooming and wardrobe effort so we could  prance around a party and make sure the fig wrapped bacon and fried risotto balls got to Kate Hudson's table, or that Lou Diamond Phillips got his wheat free entree at the same time everyone else did. Really important work.
There are other kinds of humiliation, like the kind where you allow yourself to be treated shabbily with full cooperation.I remember in six grade, I was the new girl, and I came to school in a pair of Sperry Topsiders. The resident bully,aptly named Paige Putz, demanded I show the soles of my shoes to her to prove their authenticity. It never occurred to me to tell her to go fuck herself or to point out that the faux label market was only an  illegal sparkle in some counterfeiter's eye in 1984, and it would be years before a pair of fake Topsiders would be available to anyone, let alone a sixth grader in Santa Barbara. I reluctantly lifted up my shoe, and she peered at the bottom, looking, I suppose for the embossed logo on the sole. I wish now that I had kicked her in her fat Saint Bernard face,as she later went on to make so many people miserable. Clearly there were no Jews, or somone would have pointed out the opportunity to humble her with the well timed mentioning of her last name. We didn't use the word "putz" in our house.She did change it to Phillips, her middle name, is seventh grade, so something must have clicked for someone over the summer.Wish I had been there.
Much later I had occasion to be humiliated by someone who had no business trying to put me down.He was possibly the most insufferable human being I have ever encountered that I wasn't related to. He was an actor that frequented the diner where I was waitressing. The motto there was " where the waitress is queen and the customer is always wrong".We got to be bitchy but still had to give okay service, and people tipped a lot for an entertaining experience. I will call this loser Joe M.What began as some fairly interesting, if not a little ponderous,conversations about acting and writing turned into a series of platonic dates( he assured me he wasn't interested in me"like that" nor I in him, I assure you) where we went to dinner, or out to hear music.He was very self involved and also downright cheesy in an Italian sort of way,which is always such a winning combination. He possessed hawk like good looks and his eyes were just a little too close together.I normally don't make fun of what people look like, but he is deserving, trust me.He was also very into astrological signs, and had written an atrocious script that I actually read at some point but blocked out. I only remember that the first line of dialog was a guy asking a girl what her sign was.And he wasn't kidding.Long story short, during one one these platonic dates, appropos of  my opener " I have to tell you something" ( I have no recollection of what I was going to say), he interrupted before I said anything and said snidely " Wait, you aren't going to tell me you used be really  FAT or something,are you?".,I wasn't, actually, going to say that, but I was entirely icked out. Who says that? And so what if I did used to be really fat?(I didn't, by the way, but if I had been,I certainly wasn't anymore...perhaps a little healthy but nothing worthy of mockery.) Then ,a few moments later, Joe M.leaned over, sincere as can be, looked into my eyes,pinched my cheek and said "well, aren't you just a chubby little redhead."
 The person I am now would have known exactly what to say, though at this moment, I am still at a loss for words. He could have said many worse things, but this was almost impossible to respond to because it was just hateful really, mean diguised as a sweet nothing.I don't remember what I said, or how it ended, but it took me going home and telling my sister to turn it into rage. He called me a few days later and I actually told him that he was an asshole and that he was not welcome at the diner any more. He asked if the other girls would be on the roof with shotguns when he came to get breakfast,and I said that they absolutely would since one of them was way past healthy and bordering on morbidly obese. I saw him a few months later sporting a leopard head band and a pair of parachute pants (well into the 90's),so there was some vindication. And I also got to see him beaten to death on "The Sopranos", so that was gratifying as well.
The oddest and last moment I saw Joe M., I hope, occurred at least a decade later. I was standing with a friend on Melrose Avenue on my birthday and a goldenrod colored 198something mercedes cruised by and someone yelled " Happy Birthday!". Being older and a tad blind,I couldn't see who it was. I squinted and leaned in and,  to my horror, realized it was Joe M. I started to feel that old familiar feeling but turned it around and pointed like one of the body snatchers at him and  yelled "oh my god, it's that guy I told you about!" Without missing a beat he yelled back " It isn't healthy to hold a grudge!Typical Cancer..". It was unslettling for so many reasons, most notably that he remembered my sign. I was also secretly pleased  to see he was driving the same car after all that time.
I do hold a grudge. Humilation sucks.Fuck you Joe M. and the goldenrod Mercedes you rode in on...and Paige Putz, no matter how many times you change your name, you will always be a for the thousand plus customers I had occasion to serve and the thousands of casting directors who ate their lunch during my audition( which happened so many times that I need to address it in a separate post) or the people I tried to spray with Passion, most of  you were decent people and your brief moment of passing through my life didn't make me want to hang myself,so thanks.